The Pittsburgh Pirates are in full defensive shift mode after striking out this offseason in their attempt to improve on a team that took the St. Louis Cardinals to the brink in the NLDS. Neal Huntington was given precious few dollars by Pirates majority owner Bob Nutting to allocate toward improving on a team that is chasing one of the toughest clubs in all of baseball.
Instead of overspending to be certain that a specific area of weakness was solved, the shotgun approach was used. Here is what we mean:
The Pirates were rumored to be close to signing James Loney. Swing and a miss. Strike one.
The Pirates finished runner up in the Josh Johnson sweepstakes. Swing and a miss, strike two.
The Pirates also threw some chump change at A.J. Burnett. Swing and a miss, strike three.
So now that you’re all caught up, what’s left? The Pirates full blown, all out, defensive shift.
Suddenly, the fans are left with the notion that Gaby Sanchez makes the Pirates comfortable at first base. The same Sanchez that the Bucs worked out at third base last year in Bradenton, not the one that opened the year in the rotation. Sanchez swung a hot bat when we witnessed him early in Spring Training. But once again, the hot bat of Sanchez disappeared against right handers soon after the season started.
Just a few months ago, the Bucs traded for a first baseman for their crucial stretch run when GM Neal Huntington went out and got Justin Morneau. But now, fast forward to recent days and it’s becoming obvious that Sanchez is being perceived as the man for the first base job. We hear of the former All Star being in the best shape of his life. Clint Hurdle spoke more about Andrew Lambo being in right field than first base in recent days.
But now, after not seeing Gaby Sanchez fail at the plate regularly in a few months, everyone is supposed to buy that it’s his job to lose? I trust that Sanchez proves me wrong, but he’s done nothing in recent years to show us that he is an everyday player anymore.
Look, it’s the only short term reaction that is left for a GM that was given too short of a budget by his owner.
So for the first few weeks of what should have been an exciting Spring Training, the Buccos brass is spending their time doing interviews in full shift mode. For a team that always looks forward, there was plenty of looking back.
The GM reminded everyone about the All Star seasons Gaby Sanchez, Edison Volquez and Jeff Locke have had. Some fans were hoping for much, much more. Visions of Loney working together with Sanchez this year. Josh Johnson and A.J. Burnett bolstering a powerful rotation instead of the questionable Volquez and the leaner and meaner Jeff Locke.
The Pirates brass opened Spring Training in Bradenton on the defensive. There is no talk about contending for the NL Central and how they match up against the Cardinals. Clint Hurdle is now saying he’s not in the prediction business. We learned that Gaby Sanchez makes Neal Huntington comfortable. Frank Coonelly and the Pirates marketing team created a photoshop thank you note for A.J. Burnett’s two years of service.
"“We will probably never win the offseason.” Neal Huntington"
What intelligent Pirates fans expects the Bucs to ever win the offseason? We will answer that. None. Zip. Nobody. But being pile driven into a snow bank after the excitement of 2013? A year that saw PNC Park filled to capacity over 20 times? We just didn’t expect to get shut out this offseason when a MLB TV revenue check of around $19 million will be coming to Federal Street.
We get it. Teams who are perceived by fans to win in the off season rarely carry it over to the regular season. But face it. I don’t think there was an outcry from Pirates fans to go crazy this offseason, but why not aggressively pursue the player the team wanted- ala Russell Martin?
If the agreement was Josh Johnson was the guy, why not pay him the money to get him to Pittsburgh and away from his home in Vegas? A.J. Burnett was only coming back if he took the discount coupon, so then why not get aggressive and overpay Loney?
Not many Pirates fans were screaming the Bucs won last offseason when Martin was signed. But he proved to be one of the best signings in recent memory. As it stands today, the Bucs hopes of having a successful offseason ride on Edison Volquez and a handful of new acquisitions we couldn’t even spell correctly.
Meanwhile the ball club still has millions of unspent dollars in the checking account. Are there any shells left in that shotgun?